As part of Santa Monica Patch's ongoing series on pedestrian safety in the city, we recently caught up with Principal Transportation Engineer Sam Morrissey, who is the point person on the topic. He spoke about measures the city is taking to increase pedestrian safety, the results of his diagonal-crossing experiment—and why adding more traffic signals isn't as simple a solution as it may seem.
Santa Monica Patch: Has 2011 seen than usual?
Sam Morrissey: It's hard to say. A couple of notable accidents have occurred [on , and ], but the contributing factors varied. In both those cases, elderly pedestrians were involved. We do a lot of educational outreach with police and recently did two workshops for older adults.
We've been told consistently that we have a highly walkable city. But, much like when you have a freeway with a lot of cars on it, there's going to be a higher number of incidents the more pedestrians you have. But we go above and beyond the minimum requirements for safety crossing.
Patch: What about specifically?
Morrissey: About 10 years ago, there was a big effort to make Wilshire more pedestrian-friendly, which is why you see the median islands, enhanced signage, crosswalks and other features. Also, in 2009, the speed limit for all points east of Lincoln Blvd. was lowered from 35 to 30 mph. So we did, in effect, slow down traffic.
[Vehicle speeds on Wilshire average between 32.1 and 35.8 mph in the westbound and eastbound directions, respectively, according to Santa Monica's transportation department.]
Patch: Are more control elements being added throughout the city?
Morrissey: People often say, "Put a traffic signal there." But one statistic shows the majority of accidents happen at traffic-controlled signal sections. They're a great tool for alerting motorists but not a panacea. Also, there would be additional traffic incursions into residential neighborhoods if there were [more traffic signals].
Patch: Have you thought about implementing more such as the one you test-flighted at Santa Monica and Second during the holidays?
Morrissey: That was a mixed bag. Lately I heard that some cities are now looking at removing them for some of the negative reasons we saw: People were confused about what it meant, and were crossing Santa Monica when they saw the green light on Second, even though the red hand was on.
That resulted in the diagonal crossing not being as effective as we'd hoped it'd be. On the flipside, because it was only at one location, it could have been an anomaly.
Patch: What about the "pedestrian sting operations" the has been doing?
Morrissey: They typically send out an officer not [normally] dressed—sometimes they'll put on a rabbit costume or a Santa suit—and have the officer walk back and forth across the street, citing drivers [who don't stop]. They do it a lot on San Vicente.
Patch: What was your reaction to ?
Morrissey: I wasn't really that surprised, but I was very pleased. But people should understand that the more things going on in an area, the more chance you have there's going to be a collision.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
More on pedestrian safety in Santa Monica: